Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Tag

An Allende Misstep   Leave a comment

Isabel Allende is among my favorite authors. I am reminded of how I feel about my kids: I love them even though they sometimes do things I don’t always like. Allende’s most recent novel, The Japanese Lover, is like that.

The story involves too many secrets, predictable plot lines and cardboard characters. Alma Belasco, a woman of means in her 80s, moves into Lark House, an unconventional nursing home. There she meets 23-year-old care-giver, Irina Bazili. The two bond, and soon Irina is helping Alma’s grandson, Seth, work on a book about Alma and the Belasco family history.

Of course, Irina has a past about which little is revealed, but Alma has secrets, too. As Seth and Irina learn more about Alma, it’s apparent there’s a lost love. Yawn. The younger couple believes the romance is still going strong, although this is all based on speculation.

There was, in fact, a lover. He started out as the youngest son of the Belasco family’s Japanese gardener and Alma’s childhood best friend. One of the most interesting aspects of the narrative is when Ichimei and his family are uprooted from their San Francisco home and relocated, with thousands of other Japanese-Americans, to an internment camp.

Given his role as title character, Ichimei is one-dimensional. Even Alma could have been so much more – especially in Allende’s hands. Alas, this is one of those books I didn’t like much; nonetheless, I look forward to the author’s next work.

The Japanese Lover
Two-and-a-half Bookmarks
Atria Books, 2015
322 pages


Dissing the Stereotype   Leave a comment


Chinese restaurants in San Francisco are more common than gas stations and 7/Elevens – combined. Somehow, Fang manages to escape the conventional in its décor and menu. Sure, there are the requisite Buddha statues and Asian artwork, nonetheless the ambiance is modern, even austere, compared to some garish counterparts.

After visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art just around the corner, we opted for a late lunch at Fang. The owner, Peter Fang, has been in the restaurant business since 1988, which may explain why he seemed to lack patience as we ordered. We mistakenly asked for a brown rice bowl, instead of brown rice delight. Once we acknowledged our error, he warmed up a bit.

fang plate

The dish showcases steamed browned rice, as an alternative to fried, which is mixed with caramelized onions, herbs, green beans and beef – Mr. Fang said he was out of roasted pork, our first choice. The flavorful dish was filling and left us feeling virtuous since it was so healthy.


We also tried the steamed pork buns and an order of sesame chicken. The latter featured crispy pieces of chicken with slices of sweet potato. Unlike some versions which tend to be cloying sweet, this leaned more toward the savory side of the taste scale. The pork buns were so good, we could have ordered a few more and made a meal out of them alone. With the pork balls inside silky white, slightly sweet dough, this is what a sandwich should be: fresh, creative and delicious.

Four Plates
660 Howard St.
San Francisco

Bar & Grill is Less & More   Leave a comment

The Clement Street Bar & Grill in San Francisco’s Richmond District creates an inauspicious initial impression. It’s dark, older and, at first glance, the menu, in a plastic sleeve, features a scattered array of offerings. Thankfully, first impressions aren’t always right.


We dined at CSB&G to commemorate my oldest son’s graduation for his master’s from the University of San Francisco. The bar made it possible for us to raise our glasses in celebration, and the grill provided entrees to make it special. Our guest of honor selected Salmon glazed in an orange vinaigrette. The grilled-to-perfection fish was showcased by the tanginess of the glaze. I had the Black Truffle Porcine Mushroom Ravioli. The earthy blend in the light pasta pillows was rich and satisfying. Other dishes included the Pasta with Scallops and Shrimp in a rich wine base; a well-grilled New York Steak; Fettucine with Chicken; and Pork Tenderloin with a cranberry chutney. Everyone one at our table was pleased.


Nonetheless, we wanted dessert — in large part because we couldn’t ignore the tantalizing offerings: Key Lime Pie, Creme Brulee, Banana Cream Pie with Black Bottom Crust and Fresh Blackberry Pie. Unfortunately, the temptations fared better on the menu than they did in reality. The caramel shell over the Creme Brulee was too thick; it overpowered the otherwise well-executed vanilla custard underneath. The pies were fine, but not exceptional.


Our eyes adjusted to the comfortable setting, we enjoyed our meal, and things weren’t as dark or old as they first appeared. I can only hope the same can be said of me.

Clement Street Bar & Grill
Four Plates
708 Clement St.
San Francisco, Calif

San Francisco Treats   Leave a comment

Rather than write individual reviews of the places we ate on our recent trip
to San Francisco, I decided to just share some brief impressions.

Our hotel was close to Japantown, so that’s where we went for a late dinner. We
found a Japanese Barbecue restaurant across from a small ramen house. The lat-
ter had a crowd lingering at the door. We noticed very few people at the barbecue
place. I thought the line at Suzu, the noodle shop, said something we needed to
discover for ourselves. Suzu makes three types of noodles: ramen; udon; and soba.
I ordered ramen with cilantro, which came in a large bowl deep enough for me to
put my face into. This was a good thing since it made it easier to slurp the long, silky
noodles soaking in a seasoned broth. Scallions, bamboo shoots, cilantro, of course,
and thinly sliced pieces of pork were mixed with the ramen. It was comforting, filling,
and the wait was surprisingly short.
1825 Post St.

Bambino’s Ristorante, located in the Haight, is small with an attentive but unob-
trusive staff offering a range of traditional Italian dishes. Although I suspect the food
can stand on its own to create a perfect dining experience, I think the dining party
also played a huge role in the meal’s success. My husband and I enjoyed asking our son
and niece about life in San Francisco. In their mid-20s, they embrace their experiences
and opportunities with humor and appreciation. Yes, my Angel Hair Pasta with arti-
hoke hearts, tomatoes, pepper flakes and shrimp was delectable. We shared tiramisu
and crème brulee for dessert. On the heels of an appetizer of perfectly fried calamari,
the pasta, bread, and wine, they were excessive – but enjoyable. Yet, I think the laugh-
ter, the conversation, and the ambiance of the restaurant contributed to a completely
pleasurable evening.
945 Cole St.

The Ferry Building Marketplace is a tourist mecca with good reason. It features a vari-
ety of shops with a range of fresh ingredients and locally-sourced products; and it has
several good restaurants. Since it was midday we opted for Gott’s Roadside. Given its
location, it obviously wasn’t roadside – that’s reserved for the Napa and St. Helena sites.
The menus are the same though. Gott’s started as a walk-up burger joint, but has evolv-
ed into an upscale gourmet dining establishment with fresh ingredients as a driving force.
Food is ordered at the counter, wrapped in paper and served in plastic baskets, but that’s
where the ties to the past end. I had blackened shrimp tacos with avocado, creamy cole slaw,
peppers and sour cream. The thick strawberry milkshake had bits of fruit and lots of
flavor. What a treat!
1 Ferry Building, Space 6

Super Food at (Burma) Superstar   2 comments

One possible way to avoid the wait for a table at Burma Superstar might be to
show up as soon as the doors open at 11:30 a.m. Otherwise, be sure to bring some
patience along with your appetite because this ultra-popular eatery in San Francisco’s
Inner Richmond neighborhood attracts quite a crowd throughout the day. Nonethe-
less, the food is worth every minute spent in anticipation.

Although I am unfamiliar with Burmese food, it’s still easy to appreciate fresh,
distinctive flavors – and equally effortless to take some cues from other diners
and the wait staff. We started with the Vegetarian Samusa Soup, which boasts a
creamy base with a hint of cumin and is full of an unusual but remarkably well-
matched combination of ingredients including samusas, cabbage, onions, and lentils.

Our graduate student son insisted we dine at Burma Superstar during our week-
end visit. He suggested we order a noodle dish and mango beef. However, it turns
out the latter is a seasonal dish, so it wasn’t available. Instead our server recom-
mended Steak Kabat, a medium-spicy blend of tender pieces of beef, tomatoes, onions,
peppers, and mint. He stressed that it was not overly-spiced; apparently the super-
spiced dish is the Chili Lamb. “The chef cannot even make this medium,” he said. The
Kebat was fiery enough. A cool complement was the Nan Pia Dok, coconut curry chicken
with flour noodles.

The small restaurant itself is rather nondescript, which is fine since the focus is so
clearly on the food and service.

Burma Superstar
Four Stars
309 Clement St.
San Francisco, CA